Carruth raises his game in the net

Winterhawks goalie given weekly honors by WHL, CHL

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

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Mac Carruth was not happy with his play early in this hockey season. The Portland Winterhawks’ veteran goalie knew he needed to be less distracted, more confident.

By letting things go, the 19-year-old Chicago Blackhawks’ prospect has lately been one of the hottest goalie’s in the Western Hockey League.

This week, that work was recognized. Carruth was honored as the goalie of the week by both the Western Hockey League and the Canadian Hockey League that includes the Ontario and Quebec leagues. For the week ending Jan. 15, Carruth was 3-0 with a shutout In those three games, he had a goals-against-average of 1.00 and save percentage of .969.

“I look at them as more of team awards,” Carruth said. “It comes down to goals-against average, and if that’s low it means we’re winning and that the guys are playing well defensively.”

Selected in the seventh round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by the Blackhawks, the Shorewood, Minn., native leads the league with 28 wins and has a goals-against-average of 2.86 and save percentage of .908 in 41 games this season.

The Winterhawks offense has been at the top of the WHL all season. And the team has been effective on special teams. But early in the season it appeared that Carruth (6-foot 2, 180 pounds) had not raised his play as much as hoped in his third full season with the Winterhawks.

He admits he was frustrated with his play in the first half of this season. He said he had chats with coaches in Portland and Chicago about his mental approach.

The most helpful advice from those talks, Carruth said, was to limit his verbal jousting with opponents and to let go of the pucks that beat him.

“They encouraged me to not get frustrated on the ice, to take things as they come,” Carruth said.

Carruth is not shy about speaking his mind on the ice. He seems to enjoy the edgy part of hockey, and doesn’t shy from verbal sparring with opponents.

He still does some of that, of course, but has toned down his reactions to opponents who try to rattle him.

“Trying to be a better leader is part of it, too” Carruth said of his improved poise. “The less extra stuff I do, the easier it is to concentrate on my job.”

There is one person Carruth continues to talk to all the time — himself. He said positive self-talk is part of his mental approach to the game.

He’s had plenty of positive messages to dwell upon of late.

In the Winterhawks past four games, played over six days, Carruth has let in only four goals. That run includes his second consecutive shutout win against Seattle.

“I really like the way he’s been playing lately,” Winterhawks coach Mike Johnston said.

Noting that goalies can get on a roll the same way scorers can — a hot streak where pucks seem to find the goalie instead of the net — Johnston said Carruth has been confident and consistent while carrying a heavy workload.

Carruth has sat out only four of Portland’s 45 games. His save percentage and goals-against numbers put Carruth in the middle of the WHL goalie rankings.

The only number that Carruth cares about is wins, and there he tops the league.

“If I’m playing well but we’re losing, it’s not fun,” he said.

Johnston likes the Winterhawks to press the attack, a philosophy which can put a little more demand upon a goalie than a more defensive-minded scheme.

“I’m going to have to make a couple of big saves in most games, but that’s a goalie’s job,” he said.

Carruth said he enjoys that challenge, and that the strong defensive players in front of him are a big part of the Winterhawks story.

“We have one of the better defensive groups in the league, and that helps me a lot.”